The storm had hit without warning. Rain descended in a torrent, washing over the neighborhood. Water flooded the gutters, streets, and yards.
Jaime and Brad had watched it all happen from their upstairs window. Their house sat on the lower end of the neighborhood. Within a manner of moments, everything turned into a turbulent bog. Dead branches, weeds, and mud swirled round their swing set.
“I don’t think mum and dad will want us out there today.” Said Brad, the eldest of the two. He was one for sticking to the rules, even if it meant being as bored as wood.
Jaime was halfway on putting her boots and slicker, “Ah come on ya boob, let’s go have an adventure!”
Brad’s eyes bulged out of their sockets, “Are you kidding? Could you imagine what they would do to us?”
The debate had raged through the storm and lunch time before Brad caved to his sister’s persistence. Jaime would have given up, but their parents had needed to run to the neighborhood grocery store. Triumphantly she had closed the front door behind her mother’s departing back. His sister all but pranced off to the mud room. Brad had followed suit, donning his boots and readying a yellow slicker.
“We’ve got to be quick about it, okay? I’m not about to get caught out here by dad. He’ll have my computer locked away for a month!” Brad shivered at the thought. Jaime just laughed.
Jaime threw open the back door, whistling for Topher, their yellow lab, to join them. “Come on Bradley, where’d your sense of wonder go?”
Knocked off-balance by the departing dog, he stumbled forward. Brad stuck his tongue out at Jaime and stepped into the backyard.
The rain had stopped. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through a spectacular array of clouds. Everything glinted with flashing dew drops. Beneath their booted feet washed out grass squelched with mud.
“Isn’t this amazing?” Yelled Jaime, mud kicking up from her dancing form. Topher jumped about, sniffing around the fresh scrubbed world.
Brad looked around at the young oak tree, scrub brush and dogwood. They peppered both sides of their narrow lot.
To the left lay Mr. Johnson’s yard. It sat half a head taller than Brad with an ancient rock wall dividing the two pieces of property. A short chicken wire fence sagged under a line of drooping dogwood bushes. Their bright green branches contrasting with juicy berries.
“Come on Brad! Let’s go see if our grass village survived the flash flood!” Jaime was already under the dogwood branches, pushing them aside glancing all around. Topher continued along the wall, sniffing here and there at bedraggled vines.
Brad stepped towards his sister, but then stopped, movement catching his attention. He looked up to the chicken wire fence, a lone form stepped between the bushes, peering down at his sister. It was Mr. Johnson, the neighborhood miser. Unfortunately for Brad and his family Mr. Johnson had lived in his house for the last forty years. His back yard was full of well-tended fruit trees and was the envy of the neighborhood children. Often the Mr. Johnson’s orchard was the target of many an eager trespasser.
“Come on Brad!” Jaime’s voice echoed off the stones and bushes. She crouched low founding the site of their once bustling grass metropolis. A desire to be invisible to the hook nose and sallow eyes Brad side-stepped his way around the shadow of a dogwood. Mr. Johnson looked away from their yard. He scanned the ground like a man who’s lost something of great value. He carried a hoe in his hands, brandishing it before himself like a sword.
Topher barked from the corner of the yard. Still Brad stood out of view watching the old man. Weird chills raised the hair on his arms and neck as he observed. Mr. Johnson continued to walk towards Jaime, hoe in hand. His eyes casting about his feet, searching.
With a somewhat hollow bark from the corner Topher began to dig. Clods of earth flipped into the grass. Brad shifted position. Now he could see Topher digging in the yard. Jaime played with something on the rocks and Mr. Johnson searched.
Dad’s not going to like this, he just buried that fence post last week.
Above them, Mr. Johnson disappeared into the orchard. Brad breathed a sigh of relief. He looked down at his hands only to realize they were shaking.
What’s wrong with me? He shook his head and made straight for his sister. It was time for this adventure to end. We’d better get back inside before mum and dad get here.
He was almost to his sister’s side when with a yelp and muffled bark Topher all but bulled the young boy over.
“Geez boy what’s wrong with you? Whatcha got there?” Wiping at his pants, Brad noticed something muddy sticking out of his dog’s mouth.
Jaime had jumped up and was heading in his direction.
“Give it here boy, what is it?” He made a grab for Topher’s mouth, but the dog danced away.
“Come on, we’ve got to get back.”
Again the lab jumped back, toying with him.
“What does he have Brad?” Jaime made for the dog, but to no avail. Topher was going to have his game.
“I don’t know, it’s pretty muddy. Oh well, let’s get inside.”
Jaime sighed, arms flapping down to her sides, “I suppose so. Come on Topher!”
The two walked back to their front porch, sitting on the dry steps under the eaves. Shadows played over the sun as they took off soggy boots. After running laps around the yard a couple of times Topher trotted up to the kids.
Brad was scanning Mr. Johnson’s yard for any sign of the old man, but to no avail. So intently was he watching that he felt, rather than saw, Topher drop something into his lap. It was wet, and muddy.
He opened his mouth to speak, reaching for the thing and his dog. But an explosion of screams broke his ear drums, making him jump. Jaime was screaming. He looked at his sister, who sat frozen to the ground pointing at his crossed legs.
Irritated at his sister’s antics. He looked down and opened his mouth, screaming in terror as well.
In his lap lay a hand. Jagged bones stuck out from clay gray flesh. Fingers as cold as stone groped at his leg. Broken nails caught on his jeans.
He screamed again, kicking the severed limb into the dirt. Scrambling to his feet he watched as Topher pounced on it and tossed it into the air.
Jaime continued to scream, her face going white. She pointed at something behind Brad. He followed the dissected hand’s tumble through the grass, towards the rock wall. He looked up from it to see Mr. Johnson, hoe in hand staring at them from behind the fence.
The old man was smiling.